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Central and parts of Eastern Kenya may experience the highest rates of severe Covid-19 disease and deaths, says the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri).

In a new study, Kemri-Welcome Trust says this is because the region has a large elderly population and high rates of hypertension and smoking.

“Forty-eight sub-counties with 7.2 million people in central and the adjacent areas are most vulnerable mainly because of a high prevalence of hypertension and smoking,” says the study.

Eastern region has the highest rate of smokers at almost 30 per cent, followed by central Kenya. Counties with highest smoking prevalence in eastern are Meru, Isiolo, Kitui, Embu and Kirinyaga.

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High prevalence of obesity and diabetes, the report says, is of concern in a few sub-counties around Central region and adjacent areas.

Other areas at risk of severe disease and fatalities, the policy brief published last month says, are parts of western Kenya that experience high rates of HIV infections.

The brief by Emelda Okiro, Peter Macharia and Noel Joseph says the virus is affecting counties differently and their data could help planners address specific regional needs.

The researchers had assessed the vulnerability of each of the 295 sub-counties in the country to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Counties in northern Kenya, the study says, will experience heavy spread of the disease due to poor health infrastructure and low awareness.

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The region is also vulnerable due to poor sanitation services, such as lack of water for hand-washing, and general poverty. However, the authors suggest the disease in these counties will be less severe.

A few exceptions however may be Wajir County, which has a higher prevalence for both diabetes and hypertension, while Turkana County has high smoking rates.

The study, however, says counties facing both poverty-related vulnerabilities and high rates of comorbidity may face the worst of the pandemic. The authors recommend that these counties receive priority attention.

The counties in order of priority include Mombasa, Lamu, Nyeri, Embu, Taita Taveta, Kitui, Kirinyaga, Siaya, Makueni and Nakuru.

On the other hand, the 10 least vulnerable counties include Wajir, Bungoma, Mandera, Kiambu, Bomet, Trans Nzoia, Nyandarua, Kakamega, Busia and Garissa in that order.

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The counties were assessed against a score of 24 indicators, including health infrastructure, poverty, comorbidity, age, urban population and congestion and single parenthood, among others.

The authors say they have identified areas that should be prioritised when rolling out Covid-19 containment measures across the country.

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